The United Nations (UN) on June 19, 2015 by the Resolution 69/293 (A/RES/69/293) of the United Nations General Assembly designated June 19 of every year as the date for the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. The aim of the commemoration is to raise awareness of the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence, to honour the victims and survivors of sexual violence around the world and to pay tribute to all those who have courageously devoted their lives to the eradication of sexual crimes and in some cases paid the supreme sacrifice doing so.

According to the United Nations, Conflict Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) includes all sexual crimes perpetrated under the overt or covert use of violence. Such crimes include rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage, human trafficking especially for the purpose of sexual violence or sexual exploitation against women, men, girls and boys.

The International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict consolidates a United Nations Security Council Resolution 1820 (2008) which condemned sexual violence as a tactic of war and an impediment to peacebuilding. The Day is also in furtherance of UN Security Council Resolution S/RES/2331 (2016) which established the nexus between trafficking, sexual violence and transnational organized crime. The UN Security Council further acknowledges sexual violence as a tactic for terrorism and affirms that victims of trafficking and sexual violence by terrorist groups are eligible for official redress as victims of terrorism.
It was in furtherance of this noble institutional position that the International Labour Organization (ILO) – the first specialized agency of the United Nations – during its centenary International Labour Conference in June 2019 adopted Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work. The Convention is expected to come into force in June 2020 upon ratification by at least two countries.

The Nigeria Labour Congress and its allies in civil society use the occasion of this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict to show solidarity with the victims of sexual violence in Nigeria, the African continent and all over the world. From available statistics, majority of the victims of sexual crimes are females.

According to official statistics from the United Nations Women, 35 percent of women all over the world have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by a non-intimate partner. It is estimated that 137 women lose their lives on daily basis as a result of violence mainly in the hands of family members. Out of the total number of trafficked persons globally, 72 percent of them are women and girls. In Africa south of the Sahara, one out of every four girls are most likely to be married out before their 18th birthday.

It is the persuasion of the Nigeria Labour Congress that the best gift that the Federal Government of Nigeria can give to the Nigerian people especially our women at the commemoration of the 2020 International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict is to ratify ILO’s Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment. We urge that the ratification of this important centenary Convention of the ILO be done with the same zeal with which the Federal Government ratified Convention 185 on Seafarer’s Identity Documents Convention (Revised), 2003, as amended. Well, Uruguay has beat Nigeria and the rest of the world to the pole position as the first country to ratify Convention 190. Yet, there is no gainsaying the fact that it would still be great if Nigeria becomes the second country to ratify this convention and bring it into force globally. This would not only bolster the advocacy against sexual violence by organized labour and other like-minded civil society organizations, it would also demonstrate to the world how seriously we take sexual crimes, violence and harassment.

This year’s celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence of Conflicts is very significant given that the current Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the incidence of sexual violence in conflict. Owing to the restrictions in movement, many victims of sexual violence have been confined almost permanently with their abusers thus creating opportunities for repeats of abuses. The dread of infection with Covid-19 and limited access to healthcare facilities and social support mean that victims of sexual violence are forced to live for prolonged period with the hurt, scare, and scars of their experience.

The theme of this year’s commemoration, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Survivors of Conflict-related Sexual Violence,” rightly draws attention to the need for urgent action in addressing increased risks and dangers faced by victims of sexual violence. Recent studies suggest a proliferation of sexual violence in conflict in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps. There is need to de-escalate the abominable pressure on girls and women whose material conditions make them highly at risk of being objectified, commoditized and targeted by sexual predators. The overlooking of ladies’ sanitary needs in IDP camps forces women to walk far from their tents to toilets, thus, increasing their exposure to sex trophy hunters. The hunters in this case, sometimes, include fellow IDPs and even caregivers and security personnel.

Organized Labour in Nigeria will remain committed to the elimination of all forms of sexual crimes and violence especially those perpetrated against vulnerable persons and groups – girls, women, the youth, the aged and those living with disabilities. A few days ago, the NLC issued a statement raising the alarm on the rising wave of “Rape Epidemic” in Nigeria. We condemned the rape epidemic as immoral, barbaric, anti-development and a gross mislabeling of African culture and values.

We also drew attention to fresh cases of sexual and physical violence against Ms. Uwaila Omozuwa, Ms. Jennifer and Ms. Tina Ezekwe, among others. We called on the National Assembly to expedite action on the anti-sexual violence bills before it. We also called for the deconstruction of the prevailing narrative that stigmatizes and puts a padlock on the lips of victims of sexual crimes. Also, we called on the relevant institutions of government especially the Police and Social Welfare Services to improve on their capacity to investigate, document, and prosecute cases of sexual violence against our people especially women and girls. We also made the point that every society would be judged by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable groups.
While Congress commends Mr. President, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the Minister of Women Affairs as well as the Minister of Labour and Employment for the inauguration of a Gender-Based Violence Management Committee, we urge the Federal Government to take decisive and diligent measures to ameliorate the fears and shame of victims of sexual violence. Such actions should include but not limited to the tackling of stigma, reducing the low awareness of access to sexual offences protection services including enlistment of perpetrators of sexual crimes in an offenders’ register, access to medical and psychosocial support services, honouring survivors of sexual offences and successful prosecution of sexual misconducts. These measures will help uproot the impunity of sexual misconduct and restore the sanity, dignity and confidence of our people especially girls and women.

Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni
President, Nigeria Labour Congress &
President, ITUC Global